Nearly 70% of parents would now support their child entering the workforce immediately upon high school graduation.
With Memorial Day behind us, the summer has unofficially started. And if you’re like me, you’re suddenly inundated with invitations to attend graduations of family members and friends. It’s a joyous moment to see young people passing through one stage of their life and into another—with their futures open ahead of them. Speaking from experience, it’s also a very proud moment as a parent to see your child graduate. You’ve reached the point where it’s time to let go and let your child begin to create the kind of life they have dreamed of having.
What’s interesting is that for the past few decades, there’s been a big push to send kids to college once they graduated high school. A high school degree simply wasn’t enough. The idea was simple: everyone needs a college degree to get ahead and lead a better life.
But we’re now seeing a profound shift in this dynamic. According to a new survey, almost 70% of parents would now support their children entering the workforce right after high school.
“College has traditionally been considered the route to economic security via the best paying jobs, but while the motivation remains, the facts have fundamentally changed,” says Euan Blair, CEO and founder of Multiverse, the firm that conducted the survey. “College is no longer the guarantee to financial advancement it once was, and that’s opening up parents and young adults to consider alternative paths post high school.”
I connected with Blair over email to find out more about the survey results and why more and more parents are looking for alternative routes for their children to gain financial independence and the skills needed to thrive in today’s careers.
An unclear return on investment
One of, if not the biggest, drivers in the attitude shift among parents about their children pursuing a college degree is the escalating cost.
“The rising cost of tuition and the burden student loans can have on students and their families is a major factor that is causing parents to rethink college for their children,” says Blair.
In fact, a mere 47% of parents thought that taking out student loans to pay for college is worth the burden of debt their children will be forced to pay off.
To this point, Blair says that a majority of parents (52%) cited financial stress overpaying for post-high school education as a factor leading them to consider alternative pathways. He also pointed out that many parents also expressed that they thought their child would be able to get the skills they need directly on the job (38%), and that their child should be financially independent as soon as possible (34%), which can be facilitated by entering the workforce earlier.
“Given that the cost of college has increased by 169% over the past 40 years and continues to be more costly each year, the financial burden on families is evident,” says Blair. “When you couple that with the fact that nearly half of those who attend college see no income premium vs a high school diploma 10 years after graduating, the need for alternatives is abundantly clear.”
Living the dream
Part of the Multiverse survey involved asking parents what their top priorities or wants were for their children five years after they graduate high school.
The majority of the 1,000 adults who responded ranked a “well-paying” career (56%) significantly higher than other aspirations such as having a stable relationship (13%), owning their own home (12%) or having a degree from an Ivy League school (7%).
“The hope for their children to be in a financially supportive career is clear—and, interestingly, the desire to pursue this path via a college education is not as present,” says Blair. “As the ROI of college is questioned and student loan relief is still up in the air, the desire—and even need—for a well-paying future is paramount, especially amid rising inflation and an uncertain economy.”
Blair points out that alternative pathways to a college education, such as pursuing an apprenticeship, allow young people to earn money while they learn without accumulating debt. Plus, more and more companies are dropping the four-year degree requirement on job applications.
“Apprenticeships are becoming a more viable and attractive option for young adults to pursue—and one from which parents will begin to see immediate financial results for their children,” says Blair. “At the end of the day, most parents want their children to have a well-paid career that provides them with economic security.”
Skills over knowledge
There might be the perception that high school graduates will face unforeseen barriers when entering the workforce. Blair admits that the transition from formal education to the workplace is not always easy. But that’s just as true after college as it is after high school.
“Too often our education system is focused on the accumulation of knowledge, rather than learning and then deploying skills,” says Blair. “Employers don’t care about what you know, they care about what you can do.”
He points to examples of what I call “professional skills” that employers value in employees such as figuring out how to communicate effectively in the workplace, problem solve, and work with new team members.
“These are also skills that can be taught,” says Blair. “With the right training and support, especially at the start of a new job, these barriers can ease up quickly.”
Providing parental support
One of the ways that parents can prepare their kids to enter the workforce after high school, says Blair, is by promoting a mindset shift that prioritizes outcomes over inputs. It’s not where you start in life, but where you end up that matters.
“A college degree is not the only way to obtain a successful career,” Blair says. “Understanding this reality is a necessary step to shifting mindsets and successfully preparing their children to take an alternative path.”
One key topic to discuss, Blair suggests, is how a person best learns. “The traditional classroom setting may not be the best environment for everyone and there are many other paths that young adults can take to gain the skills they’re interested in and need for a successful career,” he says.
Parents and children can also work together to identify what a great job looks like for the individual—how one person defines a successful career differs from another. Additionally, parents can question whether the future career their child wants to pursue even warrants a college degree.
“Working to identify this individualized definition of success, and how one can best get there, is really important while preparing for these paths,” says Blair.
Meeting them where they are
As a parent, I understand that feeling of wanting to do everything in my power to create the kind of life my kids dream about. For the longest time, that often involved encouraging them to pursue a college degree. But today that is all changing.
I want to be clear: I’m a big fan of going to college if (and only if) that’s what your chosen career requires. But you can’t make someone succeed in college. That must be a path they choose on their own while understanding the costs and the hard work they’ll need to invest to make it work for them.
I think what we’re seeing is the start of a new era where the “college for all” mantra is losing ground. More and more alternate pathways are opening that will allow everyone to create their own unique version of the American Dream. For this development to continue, though, we need to have the courage as parents to sit down, talk with our children and really listen to where they want to go in their lives. If we can make the effort to see them, hear them and meet them where they are in terms of their education and career aspirations, then we can set the stage for a positive future.
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